From the journal of an Aussie wombat wandering in India, with a side-trip to Japan. Still trying to find myself.
Wandering in the south of India was amazing. The place is certainly special, interesting, shocking and down right weird.
In the past, I've found that even the smallest villages in the middle of dusty plains or perched on rough hills often hold amazing shrines, temples, graves of holy men, crumbling ruins with fading paintings and the like. You meet some great people too. I've always found the rural people to be endlessly friendly. You just have to take the time to pause, offer some biscuits, drink tea, listen and enjoy the pulse of Mother India.
I was in India for the marriage of an old friend. Premchand Kolla from Hyderabad was the groom. He was a computing student in Sydney some 10 years back and is now working in Texas with Sun Microsystems. The wedding was in Rajampeta and was a fantastic event. Jeeps changed into swan carriages with hundreds of arranged flowers, brass bands, fireworks, a street parade, hundreds of people. The charity lunch did 3,000 meals.
I'm always into spiritual stuff, as you well know, and I found something cool in Madras. Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu fellow that has a really good outlook and life. He's not passive, but an active community helper and teacher. "Condemn none: if you can stretch out a helping hand, do so. If you cannot, fold your hands, bless your brothers, and let them go their own way."
I was at Kanyakumari, the southern most cape of India, during the full moon. That's the place where three seas meet and the sun and moon rise and fall together. I explored old Raj places (hill stations, Maharaja's palaces, hunting lodges and the like) and looked into the local cultures and religions.
There is a magic in Pondicherry. That wonderful faded French coastal colony in the Tamil Southlands. Glorious. Wide tree lined boulevards, sprawling old courtyard houses, wall-shrouded mansions with delightful balconies fenced with ornate wrought iron.
Eclectic churches, hedonistic patisseries, a game of Boules on the street, a shouted greeting in French as my taxi sweeps by, roof-top dining - in shadowy halls formed by a thatch canopy of palm fronds, the seaside promenade with itís happy jumble of shops and people and monuments, dark antique furnishings, the police in crisp uniforms with bight red kepi caps, the canal, parks and gardens, the deep blue sky.
The spicy sea breeze that washes over Pondicherry carries with it the lingering scents of temple incense, fresh cut grass, musty antique books, coconut oil, dusty greenery and pepper.
It was too hot for a normal drink, so my doughty Tamil-French companion and I partook of a tall glass of crushed ice filled with lemonade and toped with a generous measure of deep sea green CrŤme de Menthe.
I also spent some time wandering in the wilds and chasing tigers. Didn't see any, but did find wild elephants, dholes, serpent eagles, otters, wild boars, endless deer and thousands of birds. Indiaís wild places are now few and far between, but something of Jim Corbett seems to linger. Especially out amongst the Western Ghats and in the hilly far Northwest.
There are lots of tales in the tea stalls about Veerappan. He's something of an India Ned Kelly. Guess that's why his story appeals to me so.
Today, a modern-day bandit named Veerappan is India's most-wanted man and most notorious criminal, responsible for more than one hundred murders. Some say he is a freedom fighter, others that he is a vicious killer. Still at large in the jungles of south-western India, he avoids capture, his followers claim, by magical powers.
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain
The absolute very best Japanese food I've ever had was in Bangalore. Icy beer on tap, Kingfisher, and great people.
My ramblings took me round and about in the wilds and the urban jungles of India, south and north and east and west. I then ended up in Udaipur (Rajasthan), just hanging loose and enjoying. Linked up with my old mate Istiyak Khan too. Heís fine, happy with life and his family is doing well. Heís a good bloke.
"A friend is someone who dances with you in the sunlight and walks beside you in the shadows." - Unknown.
Japan was not really what I expected. I had a cool time though. Loved doing Disneyland. Made me feel like a kid again. Bullet trains are great too. And the green forested hills and dales, almost 100% canopy. Rippling fields of wet rice under grey skies. It has been an interesting trip and I'm glad I came. Don't think I'll be back. But it was certainly worth the 'look - see'.
Iím big on the scents of places, the exotic mix of fragrances that is Singapore, Indian that is pungent one moment and delightful the next, the eucalyptus and sandstone of Sydney, but Japan just didnít have anything, just the very occasional hint of flowers on an errant breeze.
You know, in my travels Iíve found that every city has itís own rhythm, itís own unique character, itís own scent. Take Melbourne for instance, itís got this layer of culture spread over the surface, but under that are layers of a slightly darker sort. A seedy undercurrent. Every city has something of this, but in Melbourne you could feel the old gold rush times and the opium den trade in the twisting back lanes and faded old buildings.
All cities have layers. In Melbourne I really felt the old history in the streets and buildings, the seedy side of life. A time of petty crime, failed dreams and shattered hopes. Bitter laughter and broken glass on the childrenís feet. People taking to drink and opium to kill the pain. The pain of a hard life. I felt all this while walking the streets.
While in India, I finally took the time to track down the Lodi Tombs. They affected me greatly. Elegant architecture, inscriptions from the Koran, prayer niche, unpretentious mosque. It was wonderful and got me thinking about Islam again.
And Hinduism after all the marvellous temples in South India.
"In India cause and effect are not always obviously related." - Chasing the Monsoon
You look after yourself. Keep smiling. Cheers
Gurfateh Phil Singh